Fantasy Baseball Sleepers: Relief Pitchers
We’ve made it to the end of this series for the 2023 pre-draft season. We’ve gone all the way from catcher and now to relief pitchers in designating our favorite sleepers for the upcoming season. Relief pitching is unique when it comes to fantasy baseball. Of course we’re all looking for the coveted saves but the position too offers other important statistics in leagues that include holds.
The position offers very little guarantees in the later rounds. With almost every other position you can find some guaranteed production later in drafts. Not for closers. It’s a limited position as some teams don’t even offer a clear cut closer. We’ll look for upside and the possibility of a breakout season by some of these sleeper picks.
Each year I do this sleepers series, offering my favorite sleepers per position leading up to draft season. Typically per position I will offer my three favorites, while offering five sleepers for the outfield, starting and relief pitchers.
You can find the other editions of this series below:
Carlos Estévez (Los Angeles Angels)
2022 Stats: 57 IP, 4-4, 2 SV, 3.47 ERA, 1.175 WHIP & 54 SO
2023 Stats: 60 IP, 3-4, 4 SV, 4.05 ERA, 1.317 WHIP & 57 SO
Carlos Estevez has played his entire career up to this point pitching at Coors Field in Colorado. His career numbers therefore need to be taken with a grain of salt. He moves to Los Angeles and no longer will have to deal with the horror that is Coors Field for pitchers. In comparison to home and away games a year ago in Colorado, Estevez had a 6.3 K/9 at home and a 10.8 K/9 in away games. His xFIP too fell from 5.51 at Coors Field to 3.02 in away games
The Angels bullpen is both wide open and not that good. Esteves has as good of a chance as any to anchor the bullpen this season. I used Baseball Reference for my projection lines in this series and they have him projected at four saves. Other outlets such as FanGraphs have him pegged at 16.
Anyway you look at it, you’re investing a 25th round pick in 12-man leagues in Estevez. As already mentioned in this article, there’s no guarantees in closer value this deep in the draft but in my opinion, Estevez is as close to guaranteed as we’re going to get. Drafting Estevez is a very low risk that has a relatively high reward. Take a chance on him.
Trevor May (Oakland Athletics)
2022 Stats: 25 IP, 2-0, 1 SV, 5.04 ERA, 1.44 WHIP & 30 SO
2023 Projections: 44 IP, 3-2, 2 SV, 4.09 ERA, 1.295 WHIP & 48 SO
There are two things about May that have me believe he’s going to lock down the Athletics' closing job. For one, he’s the highest paid player on the A’s roster at $7 million. If someone is your highest paid player, I do not believe he’ll be set in the middle of what already is a poor bullpen. Additionally, the Athletics will look to feature May to be able to trade him at the deadline. Not only clearing the $7 million he makes, but to get the most out of him as possible.
May’s 2022 stats suggest that he may not be closer material but his 2022 campaign was riddled with injuries. May underwent Tommy John surgery in 2017 and since his return has been one of the most reliable rotation arms in the league. In 175.2 innings pitched between 2018 and 2021, May posted a 3.33 ERA, a WHIP of 1.14 and a 32.3-percent strikeout rate. The strikeout rate was in the top 15 among all qualifying relievers during the same aforementioned time frame.
Dany Jiménez and Domingo Acevedo both closed games for the Athletics a year ago so May has some competition. However, for both of the reasons I introduced this segment with, I believe the job will end up May’s. He’s currently being drafted in the 30th round of 12-man leagues so he’s essentially going undrafted. With the recent injury to the likes of Edwin Diaz you may have an open roster spot for a reliever already. Look May’s way before a league mate steals him.
A.J. Puk (Miami Marlins)
2022 Stats: 66.1 IP, 4-3, 4 SV, 3.12 ERA, 1.146 WHIP & 76 SO
2023 Projections: 60 IP, 3-4, 3 SV, 3.6 ERA, 1.233 WHIP & 62 SO
The Miami Marlins traded for Puk this past off-season to add to their uncertain bullpen. Puk will receive some competition from names such as Dylan Floro, Matt Barnes, and Tanner Scott but each of them have their flaws.
What sets Puk apart is the firepower he offers from his left arm. There are very few left-handed relievers in the game that throw as hard as Puk does at 96.7 MPH. Not only is his fastball elite, he too offers a devastating slider. He was in line to be considered for a rotation spot in Oakland before being shipped to Miami so he does offer the stamina and ability to go more than one inning. He too offers control of his pitches as his walk-rate will be lower than that of other relievers with his skill set. He’ll produce a good number of swing-and-misses-along the way.
Like May, Puk is essentially going undrafted in most leagues while currently being drafted in the 31st round of 12-man leagues. Skip Schumaker, the Marlins’ Manager, is a new manager and we don’t know what his preferences are or will be. The Marlins could very well use Puk as a muli-inning hold type of guy in the bullpen but with his skill set, I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up with the Marlins’ closing job.